Here is the debut collaborative short story between Napoléon Dûheme and me. He did the amazing artwork and I wrote the words. There’s more in the works and being the ambitious sort that I am, I hope to eventually publish all of them as a book. So, in the meantime please enjoy the read.
THE FAR REACHING DARKNESS
by Matt Schmitz
Illustration by Napoléon Dûheme
It was a night unlike any other that came before. The darkness grew from a point in the southwestern sky, as if the tiniest droplet of ink fell upon the firmament of God’s Earth and with a wind-blown scattering of the black liquid, it blindly crept in random directions. Like otherworldly tentacles reaching down from the heavens, this mass slowly started to reach across the horizon and block out the evening sun. Clouds became engulfed, or more like absorbed, into the shifting strands. It was almost beautiful in its patience and in the fluidity of its movements. I had seen a high altitude jet try to maneuver below and around the darkness but, it too was absorbed. This thing, whatever it was, was of the purest black. No light had shone through it and no light reflected upon its surface.
As the sun disappeared behind the oily, undulating threads, the landscape was thrust into an immersive twilight. Flocks of birds erupted from trees, each one beating their wings in a Morse code of fear. Dogs howled to be free from their chains and barked incessantly at the diminishing sky. And such a sky it had become! To my upper left this onyx entity – I termed it as such due its apparent intelligent movements like a blind amorphous predator searching out its prey to devour – had covered almost a third of what I could see in just under two hours.
I watched this take place as I lounged in a deck chair enjoying the tempered warmth of early summer. My phone started to ring when the darkness had achieved a noticeable size in the sky. I had just let it continue to play its little song over and over and was of little consequence who may be calling. I didn’t care so much as I took some level of satisfaction in observing the cosmic spectacle before me. What were they going to tell me anyway? Without a doubt it was nothing I didn’t already know. In the distance began the panicked wailing of various emergency vehicles, the occasional scream of a woman terrified beyond her wits, angry shouts of simple men driven mad by the regrets of an unfulfilled life. Signaling the expected rioting, the sounds of shattering glass filled in the moments untouched by police sirens. I had remained as I started – relaxed, accepting, and content. This body that I’ve lived in for over forty years was my bubble, and I was just a witness from the inside out. The chaos within the community was only background noise to me, or at least a minor compliment to the silent doom encroaching upon our world.
Reaching down beside me to an almost full pack of cigarettes, I plucked one out and spun it slowly between my thumb, index finger, and middle finger. The notion of this smoke being my final earthly vice gave me reason to pause and encouraged me to light up with extra care. I inhaled deeply as I took the first puff. Releasing the grey smoke from my lungs, I saw that it resembled the creeping nothingness above me. “All for the best,” I said to myself. To think that I had secretly always wished for this world to get wiped away, for the cruel people who inhabited it to be washed from its brilliant blue and emerald face; here it was methodically being erased without any bravado or glamour. The end was peaceful in its execution and I was okay with it. I suppose that throughout my life I had imagined and had been programmed for fire and brimstone and violence raining down. Thousands of movies, television shows, and Sunday morning church rants really filled our heads with so much make-believe. Yet, out of all that imposed fear, nobody came away as a better person. We still envied our neighbor, coveted his wife; we still indulged in the variety of gluttonous behaviors and murderous activities that so conveniently kept us distracted and divided; and we continued to cast judgment on one another in the obscene context of superficial values and material wealth. So, yes, I welcomed the last day.
I had nothing to truly live for. Or die for. My parents passed sixteen years ago in an auto accident, leaving me without any other family – they had all passed on as well in their own ways. I then drifted from job to job, taking residence along the way in several states, the most recent being Wisconsin. I had been doing some landscaping work for a local contractor and scored a low-rent condominium for myself just outside of the city and yet, while I appreciated the simplicity of that life, none of that ever came close to filling the emptiness I carried within. None of my brief relationships ever blossomed into anything worthwhile and thus no marriage, no children. I was alone in this world. The benefit of all this was that I harbored no guilt or shame; there was only me to judge myself.
As I was contemplating these things, there was noticeable a distant high-pitched tone. I could not tell if it was a ringing in my own ears or a sound from far off. The sound began as a barely audible frequency and as the cephalopodic phantasm of humanity’s end further spread its nightmarish tentacles across the landscape, so did the noise increase. This ringing was evident both inside my skull and in the air around me. There was no pain that I could associate with it, although, as I was more vigilant of things going on around me, there was also no comfort in its manifestation. I felt as if my physical body was becoming a burden to itself and there was a hint of wanting to abandon my own flesh.
The living, moving, and now thriving thing that came from space was making more headway now and I could see across my backyard and several blocks further out that it had begun to overtake houses, cars, trees, entire neighborhoods. People ran in all directions from this thing that held no perceivable three dimensional shape; and when it reached those who were slower in their escape, it merely washed over them without incident. Those who cried out had their voices silenced in a sharp instant of suffocating goo and were gone forever – the area and ground where they stood also taken out of sight. Existence was like a chalkboard, upon which hastily sketched randomness accounted for the life which embodied it, and which was erased with a sweeping and effortless gesture. The black goo snuffed out the light in all it touched without impunity although I had not witnessed any maliciousness – it just was. What would become of me when came the moment to embrace the bleak unfathomable notion of absolute nonexistence? I wondered with growing curiosity as the whirring tones in my ears became louder, almost deafening, and I could not decipher the sounds of the natural world.
Unnatural colors dotted the edges of my peripheral vision and I found myself looking frantically back and forth, my eyes wanting to catch a forward glimpse of the miniscule movements they made. They expanded, pulsating with the frequencies that now permeated every pore in my body; and as the vibrational din began encapsulating me, I saw that the far reaching darkness was nearing my yard. Like a smooth flowing river of unreflective putrescence, it poured over the street and then onto the lawn, stretching wide in its entirety. It was an undulating abyss that yawned to the furthest point of the heavens above. This was the sun-swallower, the earth-eater, the devourer of everything, and in sublime paradox it was nothing at all. The perfect darkness writhed unrelentingly and now approached accompanied by what sounded like a plethora of tubular bells. All these things echoed in the depths of my mind and I said my farewells to the warm memories of childhood; of hopes and dreams naively once held in the prospect of growing up.
And then it was at my feet. The blackish fingers of it swam over and around my toes, then all the way up to my ankles. I could not recoil – I was frozen completely by both the utmost dread and the cold emptiness that was consuming me. The deck I had lain upon was also being swallowed up to the point where I must have appeared as a lonely human island floating in an eternal lightless ocean devoid of any form of physicality or nature. As my legs were removed, then my lower torso, I went into a state of shock. Deafening were the sounds of clanging bells and high-pitched frequencies. My heart was at the verge exploding inside my chest, my lungs at the point of collapse. Here were the final seconds of everything known to me. Spindly tendrils of darkness closed around my neck and entered through my gaping mouth, up and out of my nostrils, around into my ears. My mind was shattered beyond any conceivable notion of sanity or insanity. The last sights that my eyes beheld were the black webs crossing the span of their corneas. An incredible “swooshing” noise erupted followed by an electrical-type jolt and flash, and suddenly: nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing…
I was still me, or, at least I speculated that I was. There were no physical sensations that I could rationalize, no visions to be had, just floating in an empty limitless undefined dimension. I lingered here in this space for an unknown amount of time. Without some input of sensory stimulation, there was no way possible to track minutes, hours, days, or even years. There was no hunger to notify me when I needed to eat, no air that I needed to breath. I was neither cold nor hot. I couldn’t assess whether I was upside down or the opposite. I was me, wasn’t I? Thoughts were an action of viscous, fluid determination, however. They flowed in ambient sequences of willful consciousness and produced interpretive patterns that were not visual, but of energetic transitions between undeclared synapses. Sometimes a single thought seemed to stretch out for innumerable hours on end, other times they fired in such rapid succession that they simultaneously occupied hundreds of layers of awareness. I was existing in a chronological fashion no longer; it was a state of expanding pseudo-spatial being.
Without truly knowing, I came to the conclusion that I dwelt this way for hundreds of years after the darkness took me over along with the rest of the world. That was, until a speck of reddish light manifested within my perception as small as a sub-atomic particle. It pulsed like a beating heart and shifted and rotated. The orb grew, then receded, then grew slightly larger in size than it previously was. This repeated over time until it became of some significant size.
I felt the sensation of warmth for the first time in this space. It was as if I’ve never experienced this before in all my memory and I had no frame of reference for which to call it warmth. All I knew was that it stimulated a portion of my self into a buzzing of satisfaction. To label it as joy or happiness did not frame it correctly as it also carried waves of melancholy and of longing. I was also now able to see in a panoramic-type of sight, all directions at once, and there in the dim void were millions of points of the same reddish light. The spectacular array glimmered like sacred candles floating distant upon an ocean. They mesmerized my eyeless gaze and I found myself almost in a trance, fixed on their luminescence almost meditatively, on the cusp of blissful recognition.
I began to envision scenes of unknown people going about their daily business; some gathered for a celebratory occasion, others hurried to and fro in panicked mannerisms. There was strange muffled music playing somewhere far away and a few of the people moved in rhythmic motion. Some of them sat relaxed upon sunlit grass or being transported in different types of vehicles. Nothing to me was clear in this sepia-toned picture as it was shown. Faces were out of focus, detached, yet I could perceive emotions through the haze. The emotions I sensed were varied but most were pleasant. Occasionally concepts such as fear or anger or grief manifested themselves but they never were loyal towards a positive or negative inclination. They were just simply fragmented expressions of a whole experience; the human condition I once knew.
The scent of a warm summer breeze sweetly wafted through the images playing out within the center of my being. It lulled me into a slow and heavy vibration with the gentle encompassing feeling of security. The orb that hovered before me synchronized with this vibration and a long forgotten sound of bells triggered another sequence of pictures. This time I had either felt or understood some connection to what I was seeing. There was a woman with long dark auburn hair, who then smiled towards me as she walked accompanied by a man with a moustache. Together they walked, their arms interlocked. She wore a long elegant dress lined with delicate embroidery and lace and carried a parasol on one shoulder. He was tall, adorned with a gentleman’s suit and hat, and carried about himself an esteemed look of refinement.
A blurring effect took place and I then saw another man, ragged in appearance, toiling away in a hot factory. He was covered in soot and his skin glistened with sweat. His eyes were tired and empty from the long hours of his labor. The scene shifted to an image of home life where the man wearily embraced two children, a boy and a girl. They wore simple clothes and simple smiles as they ran from the kitchen back around their waiting mother. A sense of peace surrounded everything though there seemed to have been paid a heavy price either morally or financially if such things contained any logical basis in this etheric realm. I then once again experienced the sound of tubular bells which removed me from the worldly visions crowding my perception. Here I floated, suspended in time, with no will or desire to move.
As I was comfortably wedged in indefinite space, the reddish orb pulsed more dimly and it merged deliberately with my awareness. The orb and I were one thing now and I felt that this plasmatic energy had given me an idea of my own physical tangibility.
In the familiar darkness that boundlessly extended beyond my sight, the millions of other orbs initiated their disbursement into nothingness. They popped and faded from view one by one, and eventually I was left alone, my ethereal body pulled in on itself and taking in the warmth of that position. Silence once again reigned throughout this space and my thoughts slowed to a pace that imitated a sluggish millennial crawl. There was a rush of more heat and I felt my newly forming body submerged within a thick and nourishing liquid. I noticed my extremities begin to grow larger as well as the forming of internal organs. A barely audible rumble had also arisen in the lightless ocean segmented by a timed and repetitive thumping sensation.
For the first time, there was a physical awareness of my environment and I could extend a degree of force into the movement of limbs. I tossed and turned within the dark pool and each instance I did brought the edge of space closer to my body. No longer was I drifting in limitless capacity but instead I was captive in the membranous holding cell of finite proportions. Its walls flexed with my movements; its fluid swirled about the length of my form.
The situation turned immediately more desperate in the moments I began to writhe and twist and kick. I was overcome with urgency and the need to struggle free of this underwater prison. As my legs tore fruitlessly at the stretching walls, a blinding flash of white light pierced the blackness. It appeared in pure angelic form, a sacred entity of shimmering radiance standing sure and tall. With invisible chains I was being pulled, dragged out and away from the safe confines I had known for an eternal time. It was irresistible. I could not fight and I had nothing that I could grasp onto. I screamed with violent defiance as my sense of self became diminished the closer I came to this brilliant rip in the space. Each instant I was fading, each moment the light grew brighter until I was pulled with an enormous unseen force into the white existence beyond. Then the turmoil was over. I could not see any longer, but I felt something indeed. I was wanted and welcomed.
Along with the inhabitants of the former world, I was reborn; given a new chance to start over with new life and purpose. Infinite possibilities lay before us now, guided and fed by clandestine hands. But they did not merely grant us this life; they raised us certainly in the guise of humanity and with unlimited love.